Friday, March 20, 2015

Players and Spectators: The Speedbump Secret

Players vs Spectators: Your Team Is Comprised of Both 

  The Productivity Factor:

  The Player-versus-Spectator (PvS) scenario occurs when your team contains one or more people who are  hindering the true potential of the team and your carefully designed process.

Despite your best efforts to implement an efficient and streamlined process with a fair workload balance, by which the team's goals can be met, your final results will always be tainted by the PvS factor.
 Most managers are rarely, if ever, aware that it even exists to mar the outcome.


  Incidental Spectators:

  While each member of the team is enjoying fair compensation for their collective skills and potential ROI, it often happens that a few will become more spectator than player, who will almost immediately become a speedbump on the path to the team's goals.
 This gradual reversion from active participant to overseer can be the result of recent disappointments, a missed opportunity at work, or experimentation on a low-energy day that was allowed to go unchecked.  In the case of the newly-hired, they may be simply allowing their true nature to show, now that the honeymoon is over.

  Because humans are creatures of habit, an otherwise active team member who experiments with the spectator status is prone to repeat this behaviour, unaware that they have become a speedbump that the team must navigate every time a new project includes the spectator.
 Due to some basic primal programming, spectator status is also contagious.

 Spectator traits will manifest in a few ways, and the most common types being as follows:

> The Gab.
 The gabber is easy to spot. Common signs include standing around talking junk when everyone else is working; walking away from the project at random times to find a conversation, and similar ways to show the team that they aren't really tuned in.

> The Child.
 Being no one's favorite, the child simply refuses to cooperate, and you can't make her. You will pay her in full for her time despite your unmet expectations, and there is nothing you can do about it.
 * The child is a new manager's nightmare, but a seasoned leader will quickly recognize the potential for a complete attitude make-over. The child will either mature, or make way for her adult replacement.

> The Boss.
 Self-appointed managers tend to set themselves apart from the group at the start of a project, having decided beforehand that they will not be contributing to the hands-on portion of the work. Whether lacking in ideas or manual skills, he/she prefers to hang around at the edges and critique the others.
 Bosses tend to be a bit more annoying to the team than other forms of spectator, if only for the constant distractions from the job at hand.

 The Enablers: 

Your ground-level managers will almost immediately notice that the team is dealing with a member who prefers to watch, and in some cases even refuses to actively participate in current projects.
 The hands-on type of manager will make a weak attempt to advise the spectator that participating from a distance isn't really considered participation at all, and then move on to more pressing team matters.
This type of enabling won't serve the team's needs, and only feeds the spectator's position as an outsider.

  "They only whip the horse that wants to work" 

Current people management skills have been tainted by the politically correct and the liberalistic trends that make many managers feel that their hands are tied if an employee displays a standoffish attitude toward team goals, but the truth of the matter is just the opposite.
 While it is considerably easier to hire than to fire, in the case of an employee who has chosen to take a spectator position while receiving player pay, you are in effect dealing with a refusal to work, which is a clear violation of both company policy and the employment agreement he/she signed on the date of hire.
 This is a key point to maintain in the case of the employee who feels that they are carrying "an ace up the sleeve" in the form of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other personal status that federal labor laws have deemed as protected from discrimination.  This feeling of entitlement is a common misinterpretation of the laws that were designed to protect from abuses, rather than become a weapon that causes your company to lose valuable time and resources.

Who Really Runs This Show?

 Trust me: Many of your team members are asking this very question every time a project is hindered from the onset because they were saddled with a spectator who is clearly operating under a personal set of rules, to the detriment of the team's progress.
 The team is counting on you to defend their investment of time and effort in the project, by either converting the spectator back into a player, or at the very least, to take the spectator off of the field by assigning her to something less demanding.

  “We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” 
― Will Rogers

  Obviously you will never be able to convert every weak link into a star performer, but this piece isn't about every weak link.  This is about the simple difference between Can't and Won't because the spectator status is a personal choice, and like any other choice can be un-chosen.

 Problematic employees in other areas of the job who also display spectator habits can be easily considered to be new volunteers for your disciplinary paper-trail system of attitude adjustment.
 True spectators who have dug in their heels will not respond to verbal berating or empty threats, since they have made it clear with their behaviour that they won't be pushed.

 Mutual respect among your employees is both vital and productive, and it is with this in mind that the spectator requires a refresher in the importance of a balanced workload for each team member.
 Anything less is disrespectful to her peers, and in the extreme can be construed by some team members as a form of bullying that has been endorsed by the management.
 This latter is a highly undesirable situation that starts with a breakdown of communications, which leads to a decline in production stats, and in all likelihood ends with unnecessary tensions over legal liabilities.

 In the interest of fair and ethical treatment toward every member of the team, as well as maximizing the profitability potential of your assets, the spectators will require some specialized face time from you in an attempt to get them back to being active members of the team.

 As a firm believer in the "Three Strikes" rule of business, it seems reasonable that the first written warning should be sufficient to bring the unintentional spectator back to the huddle with her head in the game, and a second written notice will begin the process of replacing a poor investment with someone who has the potential to be a new star performer.

 2015   ≈ the Leader Coach blog   ≈ JB Stran  All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 13, 2015

Problematic Employees: Close The Complaint Department

 Reclaim Your Valuable Time By Closing the Complaint Department.

  Falling under the "Tough Love" section heading of an SBA advanced management course I attended in Baltimore (too many) years ago, this challenge has less to do with an alienation of the chronic complainer and far more to do with effectively managing your personal resources.

 "I'm Telling Mom!"

 Nearly every team has at least one, and at times it can feel like yours are multiplying.
Regardless of how many of these chronic gripers you are living with, this small group of employees will insist on monopolizing your scarce free time with an endless stream of personal grudges.
 So, how do you safely and respectfully curb this trend, and stop playing house-mother to a few employees who seem to be regressing before your eyes?

 > First, recognize that each individual tends to color the world in their own way.
   This means that we don't actually see the world around us as it is, but rather as we are.
 It will often take new managers up to two years of conscious effort to craft and maintain a perspective of objectivity, something that most professional managers tend to take for granted once they have achieved this level of personal growth.

  Specific to this subject: An habitual liar likes to think that everyone else is always lying in some way, and they both expect it and feel verified by pointing it out, whether or not it actually existed in everyone else's reality.
 Ironically, they are telling the truth when doing so, despite the fact that they are wrong.

 The slacker thinks that nearly everyone around them is also lazy, and their 'time thief' habits are justified because everyone else is trying to get over in some way as well.
 The above examples are little more than basic human psychology, an (albeit feeble) attempt at rationalizing our bad and/or socially unacceptable behaviours.
 "It's OK if I do it, because everyone else is doing it".
   This particular type of mindset taps into a primal survival-instinct:  The irrational fear of being left behind by the herd.*

 The trick for the time-conscious manager therefore is to learn to read between the lines.
 I'm not telling you to stop listening to the complaints, but instead to start hearing what the chronic complainer is actually saying about themselves.
  You will very soon see the pattern of personal issues that require attention, and this will help you to deal directly with the real reason that this person has insisted on tying up your valuable face time with little more than gossip.

 "Twenty percent of your people will occupy sixty percent of your time, and half of that is wasted on pointless whining."    ≈ Anonymous (by choice) retired team manager

 The old adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" isn't such a bad rule to live by, and it's far more valuable as a management policy.

 -  Avoid the temptation to view this type of input as an information resource:
  There have been countless "advisers to the throne" throughout history, each with a personal agenda, and each considered a trusted source for a time before having their true motives discovered, usually long after irreparable damage to the boss's reputation or even the kingdom had occurred.

- Understand that for the vast majority of individuals, it is nearly impossible to relate a story or situation to a manager without putting a personal slant on the facts. A minor personal irritation easily becomes fodder for a complaint when they feel that every complaint has value to their manager-friend.
 This naturally leads to the perception that the complainant's real value as an employee is tied directly to their ability to find more things and people to complain to you about.

- Clearly communicate your (new) personal policy with regard to high maintenance employees who seem to spend an inordinate amount of paid time both monitoring their co-workers, and then filing impromptu verbal reports that no one has asked them for.
 Should they really have so little to do each day that they can find plenty of (paid) time to track fellow employees, then maybe the complainers are overdue for some additional duties to keep them fruitfully occupied.
  These self-appointed managers may require a bit of special attention, but you will find this a valuable investment for the sake of the team and it's goals.
 Your proactive approach to this issue will quickly see your daily stress levels dropping along with your personal time becoming far more productive.
  So go ahead: Give yourself a big pat on the back.

The fear of being left behind by the herd (thus becoming food for a predator) is a primal instinct that all humans carry, although deeply embedded in their unconscious core along with their various other survival instincts, such as "Fight or Flight".
 It has been the root of such popular axioms as "There's Always Safety in Numbers" and similar survival concepts, as well as many social adages like "Keeping Up With The Joneses".
 This is a base fear that I have taught many marketing professionals to reach with their advertising in my 1995 book "Marketing To The Cro Magnon Masses", later retitled "Guerilla Marketing".

Effective Employee Communication

How to Communicate Effectively with Your Team

by J.B. Stran

 § To quote George Bernard Shaw:
  "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has happened."

 In his book "The Three Big Questions For A Frantic Family", management guru Pat Lencioni made it clear that managers spend lots of time and energy to develop and implement very specific and strategic plans for our businesses. 
 At home however, we tend to fly by the seat of our pants with our family members.

 A similar phenomenon occurs within many businesses: We plan and strategize tirelessly to best engage external audiences such as customers, investors, media, and community, while too often forgetting to invest in our most valuable constituency, the employees who have the most control over the future of the company.

 "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere"      ≈ Lee Iacocca

  Employees have a significant impact on the final outcome of any work project.
 They want to know where the company's heart is, it's vision and values. Your team members will engage or disengage based on the effectiveness of local management's ability to convey these core principles, along with clear, timely and effective updates.

Regular Communication Practices:

  Develop a plan to regularly communicate with employees without making it tedious, especially if you have a younger workforce who tend to find routines difficult.
 Regular meetings don't need to be weekly, but they will be necessary from time to time.
 Pepper in the occasional one-on-one meetings to touch on recent successes and shortcomings.

> Avoid feedback that criticizes the employee rather than their actions.
 Some members are more sensitive to criticism than others, just as some managers may have a personal presence that intimidates or 'rashes' certain employees.

> Ask if employees would like to receive feedback alerts to their smartphones.
 Younger and more tech-savvy team members often prefer to get simple notices from and about the team the same way that they get their news: In small casual bites, and at their own pace.

> Employ social media for company alerts and workforce updates.
  * Tip: Start a Facebook page for employee 'Weekly/Monthly News' updates to foster a feeling of engagement. The team can catch-up with their phones, tablets or computers at their pace, and show up the next day feeling briefed and up to date on the latest happenings that affect them and their goals.

( Now that most teenagers are moving away from Facebook, mainly because their parents have joined and are able to easily monitor them, team communication via this medium can have a more professional flavor.)

Bonus: This could help to eliminate the local rumor mill, and you can delegate the authority for this mission to an entry-level manager or to a particular employee-level (shift managers,foreman, department managers, etc.) whom you feel will remain professional, avoiding local gossip or any other unauthorized 'news'.
  You and your management team are the editors, and they the reporter(s).


Feedback in the Workplace:

   Solicit an active system of feedback from your employees.
 This facilitates two-way communication and lets employees know that their ideas are important.

 For managers, this offers the opportunity to gain new ideas, as well as offering some detailed insight into the employee's evolving jobs and skills.
 As an example; While one employee is responding to complaints regarding a company policy or process, another employee may actually have a simple solution to the problem causing said complaints.

 >  Give feedback to encourage continued effort.
  Respect the time and effort of the employee, and take note of specific areas of any shortcomings and  training gaps that will need to be addressed at a future one-on-one meeting.

    "Never miss a good chance to shut up"   ≈ Will Rogers

 >  Listening can be your most valuable communication skill.
  People begin to heal the moment they feel that someone is listening.  Your "open door" policy means very little if you're glancing at incoming emails, or answering the phone, or any of the other subtle and often unconscious ways that managers show a lack of personal interest in what's being said. 

“The most successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”      ≈  Bernard M. Baruch

  The stronger your reputation as a good listener, the more comfortable employees will feel when they have information to share. This could easily relate to your being apprised of a potentially costly problem long before it has brewed to that stage.

 > Coaching is the best Feedback.
  Coaching is based on mutual respect, strict confidentiality, and trust. Your employees first need to know that you are credible, so only promise what you can deliver.
Managers can create credibility by admitting when they are wrong; never taking credit for another employee's ideas; never denigrating an employee for their ideas, especially in front of others; always indicating a willingness to communicate openly.

 Match actions with your words. If you say you will address a situation in a certain way, then follow through. Anything less, and you are undermining your own credibility.

 Remain objective. Never "spin" or assume how a piece of news will be interpreted.
Questioning effectively is key to the coaching approach. The coach asks questions to achieve:
 - an accurate assessment of where the employee may need additional training,
 - the proper response by management to meet mutual goals,
 - the best path to help the employee find answers for themselves.

“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.” 
≈ Abraham Lincoln

> Negative Feedback 

 Some situations may cause undue tension on the part of the employee if they are made to feel as if under a personal attack. There are a few steps you can take to avoid this when the time has come for handling a difficult situation and you feel momentarily anxious about finding the right words.

 - Prepare yourself. Check facts and positions, and deal with feelings, both yours and theirs.
 - Approach the situation constructively. Humiliated employees will be reluctant to change.
 - Deal with excuses respectively. Accountability is ideal, but some may need more time to get there.
 - Ensure that people can accomplish what they said they will do. Support is always appreciated, and in most cases you will find it reciprocated.

  “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” 
― Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Performance Improvement: Once Per Year is Not enough

Performance Improvement:

 That Single Annual Review Simply Won't Produce Measurable Change

  Most companies participate in the mandatory "Annual Performance Review", often dreaded equally by both management and employees alike.

 As someone who has endured far too many of these psychologically irritating sessions at a variety of different companies, as both the giver and the receiver, I can assure you that the majority of them are little more than an exercise in futility.
 Middle management usually ends up with the responsibility of wading through the stack, as if they don't already have enough irons in the fire, and the tedium alone is enough to make a grown man scream into his pillow.
 Pepper in a dozen Freudian sessions with "the Critics" (that small group of mildly delusional employees who seem convinced that they have been doing all of the company's work alone, flawlessly, and they can't wait to tell you which of their co-workers have been 'dropping the ball'), and you have a fine recipe for a mind-numbingly fictitious quest for performance enhancement.

 There is a better way.
The missing piece of the performance improvement puzzle is timely and meaningful feedback throughout the year.
 Research has shown that providing ongoing feedback in smaller bites, while the situation is fresh in the employee's mind, is far more effective than the annual one hour meeting, and will consistently produce gradual, lasting change.
 Savvy professionals know that frequent contact, encouragement, and recognition with direct and honest feedback has been proven to produce employees who want to perform to a higher standard.
 Communication with an emphasis on simplicity, a focus on the future and support for the employee's self-tracking is a winning combination that will yield measurable results.

 2015 ≈ The Leader Hacker ≈ JB Stran